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Solar Future?

  1. Jan 23, 2007 #1
    I am a 3rd year mechanical engineering major currently working in an internship for a power company. My company recently sold off their wind and hydro generating plants because they could not compete with the coal plants. We now have only coal and gas/oil plants.

    I know that I could continue to work in these plants after graduation and make a lot of money becuase most of the people in this business are approaching retirement. I could easily move up fast, however I don't want to spend my whole life in coal plants.

    I have recently become very interested in renewable energy since I see the pollution first hand every day. I am most fasinated with solar power, it seems like such a vast and untamped source. Is there any future in solar power in America (where coal is so cheap) for a mechanical engineer since it does not involve as many moving parts as say a coal or gas plant?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 23, 2007 #2
    I hear shell gas company is starting to get into solar power. In a few more years, anyone who's using coal power will get some serious frown power from their peers, so just wait a few years. coal is doomed to fall
     
  4. Jan 24, 2007 #3

    verty

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    Starting...
     
  5. Jan 24, 2007 #4
    the tech is out there already. the only thing about it is you cannot use a battery storage system if you want a clean system, it kinda defeats the point. a smart dc-dc convertor and water heating system that can switch to company power is the future. if it's done right it will be a rollable heavy foil that snaps in place on house roofing, and as long as it can last 50+ years you will have a new profitable industry. everyone wins if the big coal companys shift focus.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2007
  6. Jan 24, 2007 #5

    verty

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    Why would they want to shift focus?
     
  7. Jan 24, 2007 #6
    cleaner environment :redface:
     
  8. Jan 24, 2007 #7
    Unfortunatly they are too focused on the near-term profits that coal provides. There is enough coal to last at least 100-200 years so are we going to see a major investment in it before then?
     
  9. Jan 24, 2007 #8

    verty

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    Sadly, we'll see an investment when everyone buys a Prius or everyone changes to cleaner power providers (well a significant amount).
     
  10. Jan 24, 2007 #9
    The problem with solar power right now is that you have to cover HUGE areas of land with solar panels if you want to produce any significant ammount of electricity.

    There is also the problem that you need to build a significant backup capacity(coal, oil, gas)for those times that the sun isnt shining.

    Wind has the same two problems. It means very high costs of electricity in the end. The only way wind and solar power can compete with gas, coal and nuclear power is heavy subisidses(is this spelled right?) from the goverment. In sweden the subsidisesare so high that they evened out over each produced kWh from wind, they are almost twice as high as the electricity production cost in our nuclear power plants.
     
  11. Jan 24, 2007 #10
  12. Sep 16, 2009 #11
    The renewable energy sector is a great one to be in right now. The solar and wind industries are reported to be booming for the next several years. You will continue to see a dramatic price reduction solar panels (down already 40% from 2 years ago) especially now nice people are starting to buy solar panels online We need to create a diverse portfolio of renewable energy / clean energy source. Solar, wind & hydro to create jobs and get us off of hydrocarbons as a fuel source.
     
  13. Sep 16, 2009 #12
    Although solar is growing, it will continue to be only a tiny part of the market. The usual solar panel technology is not expected to make a major impact, if for no other reason than silicon availability. Energy in general is an exciting field to be in, but technologies are changing. It's not likely that solar will be more than a niche market, even as it grows. Nuclear and cleaner coal are more likely to be the major short-mid term players, with wind also in the mix (although still relatively small).

    Just an FYI. There will certainly be jobs in solar too. Are you interested in design engineering or in operations management?
     
  14. Sep 16, 2009 #13

    mgb_phys

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    I don't think we have hit 'peak sand' just yet !
     
  15. Sep 16, 2009 #14
    Actually the price of polysilicon has been plummeting and there is a ton of inventory building up. There is also more refining capacity coming online in 2010/11 (mainly in China). So while silicon prices/availability was the major stumbling block in recent years it will be less of an issue going forward.

    The problem with solar is three fold - scalability, financing and cost.

    Scalability. Most installers are mom and pop shops that only service one town or one county. No installer has figured out how to scale nationally but thats about to change with the online quoting & sales of complete systems. Sungevity is making progress with going national. With scalability comes buying power which means cheaper hardware, savings that can be passed on to the customer.

    Financing. It is only a matter of time before the money starts flowing again (Summer 2010?) and people can get loans.

    Cost. Not only are panel prices plummeting, but balance of system (BoS) prices are dropping too. BoS is all hardware except for the panels - power inverters, racking etc. Large, hard to install centralized inverters are being replaced with smaller cheaper micro inverters. This not only reduces equipment cost but they are much easier to install (no electrician required) so labor cost is reduced as well. Racking has gotten cheaper much easier to install over the last few years.

    All this adds up to grid parity and below in the next few years. What does that mean? It means by 2015, you will be able get an online quote (no truck roll required) for a solar electric system that will be financed through a 20 year loan paid back via property tax.

    No upfront cost and your electricity bill goes down by 20% from day one. Now that will spur some growth!
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2009
  16. Sep 16, 2009 #15
    Current inventory increases are due to temporary factors in the economy. You won't see much if any photovoltaic solar in use by power companies... it's just not economical and at the scale needed for solar to have significant market share the prices would surely go up. The threat of a future silicon shortage is a deterrent to large-scale investment in silicon based technology.

    A 20 year payback might work for a home user, and solar will certainly be having some relative growth, but a 20 year payback is unacceptable for a business. Either way I agree with about everything you've said and I didn't mean to make a big deal out of it :smile: - just pointing out that coal isn't going away any time soon, and solar won't be the technology to replace it.
     
  17. Sep 16, 2009 #16
    Agreed.

    If there is no upfront cost and your electricity bill goes down from day one why not? If you own the building or have high power requirements during peak billing you'd be wasting money if you didn't.
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2009
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